Rock n Roll with a social conscience?
In 1965 a song called my generation was released that talked about the youth of the days struggle to find their place in society. Listening to Howe today I get the feeling I am listening to a band acutely aware of the precariousness of today’s youth and its own place in society.
This keen social commentary runs through the veins of this debut EP ‘Bolt From The Blue’ on opening cut ‘Lost Generation’ the message is delivered in a delicate but direct manner with nods to that 1965 masterpiece. These musical characteristics come in the form of the subtle bombast of the kick drum and snare, the stuttered vocal delivery in the chorus and the intricate but tastefully written runs of the bass that drift in and out of the track in complete harmony with the beautiful guitar work on show here. This results in an impressive union of delicacy and violence when following the songs epic guitar solo the singer roars, “cut me down, leave me in the cold”. This line is delivered with a bitter taste in the mouth and a hint of melancholy, this aggression brings the songs message right into the face of the listener.
“We’re all following the same formula and I think it’s time for change”
A keen observation by Howe in their title track ‘Bolt from the Blue’, perhaps even somewhat of a mission statement for this band? First off, this track is layered with some gorgeous vocal harmonies that warrant stand out praise; these compliment more intelligent guitar playing along the lines of what we heard in ‘Lost Generation’. Listening to this track I start to get a feeling that artists like Traffic, Lou Reed and maybe Blind Melon have influenced Howe during their collective musical education.
Certainly the poetry of Lou Reed is present here, “I’ll let you in on the biggest secret…don’t expect much when you’ve got nothing to give” - these words echo across a warm soundscape that is underpinned by a Walk on the Wild side style bass slide. These elements wrap their arms around you in the verse, before pushing you away as the song builds into pure angst fuelled bombast on the chorus. Guitars kick in the mix here as the band let you know it’s time for something new with a flurry of well crafted hooks. The end of this track reinforces the bands soul credentials as they roll into a malevolent funk blues freight train right off the back of some sinister syncopation, this funkier section see’s the singer transforming into a fucked up hybrid of Joe Tex meets Zack de la Rocha, spitting his lyrics rhythmically all over the closing bars of this track.
‘It’s Not Such a Surprise’ comes in with a Beatles flavour; it treads a thin line with its musical references at points, but it successfully makes you feel like your tripping through a British summertime, for this reason alone the song deserves your ears. Straight up this track has a huge chorus, it really lifts the song up sonically and invites you to come and find them. There is some nice production here as well; the second pre chorus sees some excellent old school vocal distortion creating the imagery of an acid infused trip back to Amsterdam in the 60’s, before you get slapped back into the here and now with that chorus. However for this reviewer I found the coup de grace in this track to be the melodic switch at the end of the track which brought back memories of The Bends era Radiohead to me. Frantic guitar playing and a pulsating rhythm charge this section in contrast to the rest of this fairly chilled track.
The kinds of song writing features deeply woven into the sound of Howe smacks of a band who clearly listen to a wide variety of music and for me it makes a great change to the kind of incestuous genre specific tunes currently being espoused by the British music scene.
It is intelligently written music with a thick layer of soul and a bucket load of social awareness. At a time when ‘real lyrics’ have been done to death and generally swing between a description of a trip to Tesco’s or a slightly conceited re-enactment of an artists own love life I find the portrayal of a youth who, “ignore what’s important and embrace what is near” refreshing in a world that has become all too obsessed with disposability. You could say Howe benefit from pop sensibilities, styled with the groove and funk of a soul blues outfit whilst retaining the cut, thrust and bluster of vintage rock.
I would just say that they are a great example of a quintessentially British rock n roll band, something so very vital to music in 2012.
Howe: Ralph Brunjes / Niall Lavelle / Ben Hayes / Eric Brunjes